Miss Lulu Bett (1921) Gale’s most acclaimed drama, was adapted from the novel she published that same year, for which she was the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1923. We include both the revised and original versions of Act III. Read the novel, Miss Lulu Bett for literary comparison. The protagonist is Lulu, who essentially serves as a housemaid for her sister’s family, and remains unhappy until she falls in love with her brother-in-law, Ninian. They “accidentally” get married, but their happiness doesn’t last long, as Lulu discovers he’s already married, among other things, as the drama unfolds.
Act I, Scene I
THE DEACON DINING-ROOM: Plain rose paper, oak sideboard, straight chairs, a soft old brown divan, table laid for supper. Large pictures of, say, “Paul and Virginia” and Abbott Thayer’s “Motherhood.” A door left leads to kitchen; a door right front leads to the passage and the “other” room. Back are two windows with lace curtains, revealing shrubbery or blossoming plants; and a shelf with a clock and a photograph of Ninian Deacon. Over the table is a gas burner in a glass globe. In the center of the table is a pink tulip in a pot. The stage is empty.
(Enter MONONA. She tiptoes to the table, tastes a dish or two, hides a cooky in her frock; begins a terrible little chant on miscellaneous notes.)
(Enter DWIGHT DEACON.)
DWIGHT. What! You don’t mean you’re in time for supper, baby?
MONONA. I ain’t a baby.
DWIGHT. Ain’t. Ain’t. Ain’t.
MONONA. Well, I ain’t.
DWIGHT. We shall have to take you in hand, mama and I. We shall-have-to-take-you in hand.
MONONA. I ain’t such a bad girl.
DWIGHT. Ain’t. Ain’t. Ain’t.
(Enter INA, Door R. E.)
INA. Dwightie! Have I kept you waiting?
DWIGHT. It’s all right, my pet. Bear and forbear. Bear and forbear.
INA. Everything’s on the table. I didn’t hear Lulu call us, though. She’s fearfully careless. And Dwight, she looks so bad–when there’s company I hate to have her around.
(They seat themselves.)
DWIGHT. My dear Ina, your sister is very different from you.
INA. Well, Lulu certainly is a trial. Come Monona.
DWIGHT. Live and let live, my dear. We have to overlook, you know. What have we on the festive board to-night?
INA. We have creamed salmon. On toast.
MONONA. I don’t want any.
DWIGHT. What’s this? No salmon?
INA. Oh now, pet! You liked it before.
MONONA. I don’t want any.
DWIGHT. Just a little? A very little? What is this? Progeny will not eat?
INA. She can eat if she will eat. The trouble is, she will not take the time.
DWIGHT. She don’t put her mind on her meals.
INA. Now, pettie, you must eat or you’ll get sick.
MONONA. I don’t want any.
INA. Well, pettie–then how would you like a nice egg?
INA. Some bread and milk?
(Enter LULU BETT. She carries a plate of muffins.)
INA. Lulu, Monona won’t eat a thing. I should think you might think of something to fix for her.
LULU. Can’t I make her a little milk toast?
INA. Well now, sister. Don’t toast it too much. That last was too–and it’s no use, she will not eat it if it’s burned.
LULU. I won’t burn it on purpose.
INA. Well, see that you don’t… Lulu! Which milk are you going to take?
LULU. The bottle that sets in front, won’t I?
INA. But that’s yesterday’s milk. No, take the fresh bottle from over back. Monona must be nourished.
LULU. But then the yesterday’s’ll sour and I can’t make a custard pie–
DWIGHT. Kindly settle these domestic matters without bringing them to my attention at meal time. (Observes the tulip.) Flowers! Who’s been having flowers sent in?
INA. Ask Lulu.
LULU. It was a quarter. There’ll be five flowers.
DWIGHT. You bought it?
LULU. Yes. Five flowers. That’s a nickel apiece.
DWIGHT. Yet we give you a home on the supposition that you have no money to spend, even for the necessities.
INA. Well, but Dwightie. Lulu isn’t strong enough to work. What’s the use–
DWIGHT. The justice business and the dental profession do not warrant the purchase of spring flowers in my home.
INA. Well, but Dwightie–
DWIGHT. No more. Lulu meant no harm.
INA. The back bottle, Lulu. And be as quick as you can. Remember, the back bottle. She has a terrible will, hangs on to her own ideas, and hangs on–
DWIGHT. Forbearance my pet, forbearance. Baked potatoes. That’s good–that’s good. The baked potato contains more nourishment than potatoes prepared in any other way. Roasting retains it.
INA. That’s what I always think.
DWIGHT. Where’s your mother? Isn’t she coming to supper?
INA. No. Tantrum.
DWIGHT. Oh ho, mama has a tantrum, eh? My dear Ina, your mother is getting old. She don’t have as many clear-headed days as she did.
INA. Mama’s mind is just as good as it ever was, sometimes.
DWIGHT. Hadn’t I better call her up?
INA. You know how mama is.
(Enter LULU. She takes flowerpot from table and throws it out the window. Exit LULU.)
DWIGHT. I’d better see. (Goes to door and opens it.) Mother Bett!…Come and have some supper…. Looks to me Lulu’s muffins go down pretty easy! Come on–I had something funny to tell you and Ina…. (Returns.) No use. She’s got a tall one on to-night, evidently. What’s the matter with her?
INA. Well, I told Lulu to put the creamed salmon on the new blue platter, and mama thought I ought to use the old deep dish.
DWIGHT. You reminded her that you are mistress here in your own home. But gently, I hope?
INA. Well–I reminded her. She said if I kept on using the best dishes I wouldn’t have a cup left for my own wake.
DWIGHT. And my little puss insisted?
INA. Why of course. I wanted to have the table look nice for you, didn’t I?
DWIGHT. My precious pussy.
INA. So then she walked off to her room. (MONONA sings her terrible little chant.) Quiet, pettie, quiet!
DWIGHT. Softly, softly, softly, SOFTLY!… Well, here we are, aren’t we? I tell you people don’t know what living is if they don’t belong in a little family circle.
INA. That’s what I always think.
DWIGHT. Just coming home here and sort of settling down–it’s worth more than a tonic at a dollar the bottle. Look at this room. See this table. Could anything be pleasanter?
INA. Monona! Now, it’s all over both ruffles. And mama does try so hard…
DWIGHT. My dear. Can’t you put your mind on the occasion?
INA. Well, but Monona is so messy.
DWIGHT. Women cannot generalize. (Clock strikes half hour.) Curious how that clock loses. It must be fully quarter to. It is quarter to! I’m pretty good at guessing time.
INA. I’ve often noticed that.
DWIGHT. That clock is a terrible trial. Last night it was only twenty-three after when the half hour struck.
INA. Twenty-one, I thought.
DWIGHT. Twenty-three. My dear Ina, didn’t I particularly notice? It was twenty-three.
MONONA (like lightning). I want my milk toast, I want my milk toast, I want my milk toast.
INA. Do hurry, sister. She’s going to get nervous.
(MONONA chants her chant. Enter LULU.)
LULU. I’ve got the toast here.
INA. Did you burn it?
LULU. Not black.
DWIGHT. There we are. Milk toast like a ku-ween. Where is our young lady daughter to-night?
INA. She’s at Jenny Plows, at a teaparty.
DWIGHT. Oh ho, teaparty. Is it?
LULU. We told you that this noon.
DWIGHT (frowning at LULU). How much is salmon the can now, Ina?
INA. How much is it, Lulu?
LULU. The large ones are forty, that used to be twenty-five. And the small ones that were ten, they’re twenty-five. The butter’s about all gone. Shall I wait for the butter woman or get some creamery?
DWIGHT. Not at meal time, if you please, Lulu. The conversation at my table must not deal with domestic matters.
LULU. I suppose salmon made me think of butter.
DWIGHT. There is not the remotest connection. Salmon comes from a river. Butter comes from a cow. A cow bears no relation to a river. A cow may drink from a river, she may do that, but I doubt if that was in your mind when you spoke–you’re not that subtle.
LULU. No, that wasn’t in my mind.
(Enter MOTHER BETT.)
DWIGHT. Well, Mama Bett, hungry now?
MRS. BETT. No, I’m not hungry.
INA. We put a potato in the oven for you, mama.
MRS. BETT. No, I thank you.
DWIGHT. And a muffin, Mama Bett.
MRS. BETT. No, I thank you.
LULU. Mama, can’t I fix you some fresh tea?
MRS. BETT. That’s right, Lulie. You’re a good girl. And see that you put in enough tea so as a body can taste tea part of the way down.
INA. Sit here with us, mama.
MRS. BETT. No, I thank you. I’ll stand and keep my figger.
DWIGHT. You know you look like a queen when you stand up, straight back, high head, a regular wonder for your years, you are.
MRS. BETT. Sometimes I think you try to flatter me. (Sits.)
MONONA. I’ll go. I’ll go. Let me go.
DWIGHT. Now what can anybody be thinking of to call just at meal time. Can’t I even have a quiet supper with my family without the outside world clamoring?
LULU. Maybe that’s the butter woman.
DWIGHT. Lulu, no more about the butter, please.
MONONA. Come on in. Here’s Bobby to see you, papa, let’s feed him.
DWIGHT. Oh ho! So I’m the favored one. Then draw up to the festive board, Robert. A baked potato?
BOBBY. No, sir. I–I wanted something else.
DWIGHT. What’s this? Came to see the justice about getting married, did you? Or the dentist to have your tooth pulled–eh? Same thing–eh, Ina? Ha! ha! ha!
BOBBY. I–I wondered whether–I thought if you would give me a job….
DWIGHT. So that’s it.
BOBBY. I thought maybe I might cut the grass or cut–cut something.
DWIGHT. My boy, every man should cut his own grass. Every man should come home at night, throw off his coat and, in his vigor, cut his own grass.
BOBBY. Yes, sir.
DWIGHT. Exercise, exercise is next to bread–next to gluten. Hold on, though–hold on. After dental hours I want to begin presently to work my garden. I have two lots. Property is a burden. Suppose you cut the grass on the one lot through the spring.
BOBBY. Good enough, sir. Can I start right in now? It isn’t dark yet.
DWIGHT. That’s right, that’s right. Energy–it’s the driving power of the nation. (They rise, DWIGHT goes toward the door with BOBBY.) Start right in, by all means. You’ll find the mower in the shed, oiled and ready. Tools always ready–that’s my motto, my boy. (Enter DI and CORNISH. CORNISH carries many favors.) Ah ha!
DI. Where is everybody? Oh, hullo, Bobby! You came to see me?
BOBBY. Oh, hullo! No. I came to see your father.
DI. Did you? Well, there he is. Look at him.
BOBBY. You don’t need to tell me where to look or what to do. Good-by. I’ll find the mower, Mr. Deacon. (Exit.)
DWIGHT. Mama! What do you s’pose? Di thought she had a beau– How are you, Cornish?
DI. Oh, papa! Why, I just hate Bobby Larkin, and the whole school knows it. Mama, wasn’t Mr. Cornish nice to help carry my favors?
INA. Ah, Mr. Cornish! You see what a popular little girl we have.
CORNISH. Yes, I suppose so. That is–isn’t that remarkable, Mrs. Deacon? (He tries to greet LULU, who is clearing the table.)
DI. Oh, papa, the sweetest party–and the dearest supper and the darlingest decorations and the georgeousest– Monona, let go of me!
DWIGHT. Children, children, can’t we have peace in this house?
MONONA. Ah, you’ll catch it for talking so smarty.
DI. Oh, will I?
INA. Monona, don’t stand listening to older people. Run around and play. (MONONA runs a swift circle and returns to her attitude of listener.)
CORNISH. Pardon me–this is Miss Bett, isn’t it?
LULU. I–Lulu Bett, yes.
CORNISH. I had the pleasure of meeting you the night I was here for supper.
LULU. I didn’t think you’d remember.
CORNISH. Don’t you think I’d remember that meat pie?
LULU. Oh, yes. The meat pie. You might remember the meat pie. (Exit, carrying plates.)
CORNISH. What the dickens did I say that for?
INA. Oh, Lulu likes it. She’s a wonderful cook. I don’t know what we should do without her.
DWIGHT. A most exemplary woman is Lulu.
INA. That’s eggsemplary, Dwightie.
DWIGHT. My darling little dictionary.
DI. Mama, Mr. Cornish and I have promised to go back to help Jenny.
INA. How nice! And Mr. Cornish, do let us see you oftener.
DWIGHT. Yes, yes, Cornish. Drop in. Any time, you know.
CORNISH. I’ll be glad to come. I do get pretty lonesome evenings. (Enter LULU, clearing table.) I eat out around. I guess that’s why your cooking made such an impression on me, Miss Lulu.
LULU. Yes. Yes. I s’pose it would take something like that…
CORNISH. Oh, no, no! I didn’t mean–you mustn’t think I meant– What’d I say that for?
LULU. Don’t mind. They always say that to me. (Exit with dishes.)
DI. Come on, Mr. Cornish. Jenny’ll be waiting. Monona, let go of me!
MONONA. I don’t want you!
DWIGHT. Early, darling, early! Get her back here early, Mr. Cornish.
CORNISH. Oh, I’ll have her back here as soon as ever she’ll come–well, ah–I mean….
DI. Good-by Dwight and Ina! (Exit DIand MR. CORNISH.)
DWIGHT. Nice fellow, nice fellow. Don’t know whether he’ll make a go of his piano store, but he’s studying law evenings.
INA. But we don’t know anything about him, Dwight. A stranger so.
DWIGHT. On the contrary I know a great deal about him. I know that he has a little inheritance coming to him.
INA. An inheritance–really? I thought he was from a good family.
DWIGHT. My mercenary little pussy.
INA. Well, if he comes here so very much you know what we may expect.
DWIGHT. What may we expect?
INA. He’ll fall in love with Di. And a young girl is awfully flattered when a good-looking older man pays her attention. Haven’t you noticed that?
DWIGHT. How women generalize! My dear Ina, I have other matters to notice.
INA. Monona. Stop listening! Run about and play. (MONONA runs her circle and returns.) Well, look at our clock. It’s almost your bedtime, anyway.
INA. It certainly is.
MONONA. That clock’s wrong. Papa said so.
INA. Mama says bedtime. In ten minutes.
MONONA. I won’t go all night.
DWIGHT. Daughter, daughter, daughter….
MONONA. I won’t go for a week.
(DWIGHT sees on clock shelf a letter.)
INA. Oh, Dwight! It came this morning. I forgot.
LULU. I forgot too. And I laid it up there.
DWIGHT. Isn’t it understood that my mail can’t wait like this?
LULU. I know. I’m sorry. But you hardly ever get a letter.
DWIGHT. Of course pressing matters go to my office. Still my mail should have more careful– (He reads.) Now! What do you think I have to tell you?
INA. Oh, Dwightie! Something nice?
DWIGHT. That depends. I’ll like it. So’ll Lulu. It’s company.
MONONA. I hope they bring me something decent.
INA. Oh, Dwight, who?
DWIGHT. My brother, from Oregon.
INA. Ninian coming here?
DWIGHT. Some day next week. He don’t know what a charmer Lulu is or he’d come quicker.
INA. Dwight, it’s been years since you’ve seen him.
DWIGHT. Nineteen–twenty. Must be twenty.
INA. And he’s never seen me.
DWIGHT. Nor Lulu.
INA. And think where he’s been. South America–Mexico–Panama and all. We must put it in the paper.
MRS. BETT. Who’s coming? Why don’t you say who’s coming? You all act so dumb.
LULU. It’s Dwight’s brother, mother. His brother from Oregon.
MRS. BETT. Never heard of him.
LULU (taking photograph from shelf ). That one, mother. You’ve dusted his picture lots of times.
MRS. BETT. That? Got to have him around long?
DWIGHT. I don’t know. Wait till he sees Lulu. I expect when he sees Lulu you can’t drive him away. He’s going to take one look at Lulu and settle down here for life. He’s going to think Lulu is–
LULU. I–think the tea must be steeped now. (Exit.)
DWIGHT. He’s going to think Lulu is a stunner–a stunner…. (The clock strikes. MONONA shrieks.) Is the progeny hurt?
INA. Bedtime. Now, Monona, be mama’s nice little lady…. Monona, quiet, pettie, quiet…. (LULU enters with tea and toast.) Lulu, won’t you take her to bed? You know Dwight and I are going to Study Club.
LULU. There, mother. Yes, I’ll take her to bed. Come, Monona. And stop that noise instantly. (MONONA stops. As they cross DWIGHT spies the tulip on LULU’S gown.)
DWIGHT. Lulu. One moment. You picked the flower on the plant.
LULU. Yes. I–picked it.
DWIGHT. She buys a hothouse plant and then ruins it!
(She draws MONONA swiftly left; exeunt; the door slams.)
DWIGHT. What a pity Lulu hasn’t your manners, pettie.
MRS. BETT. What do you care? She’s got yours.
DWIGHT. Mother Bett! Fare thee well.
MRS. BETT. How do you stand him? The lump!
INA. Mama dear, now drink your tea. Good-night, sweetie.
MRS. BETT. You needn’t think I forgot about the platter, because I ain’t. Of all the extravagant doin’s, courtin’ the poorhouse– (Exeunt DWIGHT and INA. MRS. BETT continues to look after them, her lips moving. At door appears BOBBY.)
BOBBY. Where’s Mr. Deacon?
MRS. BETT. Gone, thank the Lord!
BOBBY. I’ve got the grass cut.
MRS. BETT. You act like it was a trick.
BOBBY. Is–is everybody gone?
MRS. BETT. Who’s this you’re talkin’ to?
BOBBY. Yes, well, I meant–I guess I’ll go now. (Enter DI.)
DI. Well, Bobby Larkin. Are you cutting grass in the dining room?
BOBBY. No, ma’am, I was not cutting grass in the dining room.
(Enter LULU, collects her mother’s dishes, folds cloth and watches.)
DI. I used to think you were pretty nice, but I don’t like you any more.
BOBBY. Yes you used to! Is that why you made fun of me all the time?
DI. I had to. They all were teasing me about you.
BOBBY. They were? Teasing you about me?
DI. I had to make them stop so I teased you. I never wanted to.
BOBBY. Well, I never thought it was anything like that.
DI. Of course you didn’t. I–wanted to tell you.
BOBBY. You wanted–
DI. Of course I did. You must go now–they’re hearing us.
DI. Good-night. Go the back way, Bobby–you nice thing. (Exit BOBBY.) Aunt Lulu, give me the cookies, please, and the apples. Mr. Cornish is on the front porch… mama and papa won’t be home till late, will they?
LULU. I don’t think so.
DI. Well, I’ll see to the hall light. Don’t you bother. Good-night.
LULU. Good-night, Di. (Exit DI.)
MRS. BETT. My land! How she wiggles and chitters.
LULU. Mother, could you hear them? Di and Bobby Larkin?
MRS. BETT. Mother hears a-plenty.
LULU. How easy she done it…got him right over…how did she do that?
MRS. BETT. Di wiggles and chitters.
LULU. It was just the other day I taught her to sew…I wonder if Ina knows.
MRS. BETT. What’s the use of you findin’ fault with Inie? Where’d you been if she hadn’t married I’d like to know?…What say?… eh?… I’m goin’ to bed…. You always was jealous of Inie. (Exit MRS. BETT.)
(LULU crosses to shelf, takes down photograph of NINIAN DEACON, holds it, looks at it.)